The snow was lightly falling as I pulled into parking lot of the Dogwood Diner. I pulled up the hood on my jacket over my light brown hair as I headed inside.
"Sit wherever you like sweetie." The hostess said as I walked in the door. "Happy Thanksgiving."
"Thanks." I answered as I walked towards her. "Happy Thanksgiving." I smiled as I walked by and found my normal seat in the back corner. I pulled my hood off of my head and brushed the snowflakes off of my clothes before settling into the two person booth.
"I was wondering when you'd be in." The waitress, Ms. Peggy, said as she walked towards me. "Happy Thanksgiving Mason."
"Thanks Ms. Peggy." I answered. "You too." She walked back into the kitchen before quickly returning with a glass of ice and a pitcher of sweet tea.
"You working again tonight?" She asked as she set them in front of me.
"You know it." I answered; this would be the tenth year in a row that I would be working tonight. Every year for the past ten I have come to this diner for Thanksgiving dinner. Every year Ms. Peggy has waited on me. She knew my story better than most. A waiter was walking by our table and she grabbed a basket off of his tray and handed it to me.
"Thanks Ms. Peggy." I smiled as I began to butter a piece of cornbread from the basket.
"We're kinda busy tonight, so it'll be a few minutes." Ms. Peggy informed me before smiling and walking away.
"No rush." I called after her. I enjoyed my cornbread while I thought longingly about my parents. There had been a terrible accident, my parents had been hit by a drunk driver, and both died instantly. I was only six years old at the time. My only living relative was my MeMaw, sadly she passed away four years later when I was ten years old. My MeMaw sold my parents house and left her house to me. The treatments the doctors used to extend my grandmother's life were expensive, but there was a little bit of money that was left in a trust for me.
The years since had not been easy. The remaining eight years of my childhood I spent in an orphanage of sorts. I was very shy around the others and struggled to make friends. When I turned sixteen and was old enough to work, the orphanage let me work afternoons, weekends and holidays, I got a job at the local electronics store. That Thanksgiving was the first time I had come to this diner, that I had met Ms. Peggy. She has been dear to me since.
"I heard people are already lining up." Ms. Peggy said as she walked by. "I wouldn't freeze to death to try to save a few bucks."
"What people will do for a good deal." I answered as she headed into the kitchen.
"Here you go sweetie, just the white meat." Ms. Peggy placed the Thanksgiving Special in front of me. The aroma of the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and fixin's wafted into my nose.
"Mmm." Escaped my lips as she headed off to another table. I was grateful that the orphanage fed me, but the food there was terrible. That was the main reason I went to the diner ten years ago. I missed my parents and MeMaw more than anything. My mom and grandma were both great cooks, I decided then that I would try to get a good meal on Thanksgiving to help me remember what it was like.
"On the house." Ms. Peggy said as she placed a slice of chocolate pie in front of me.
"Thanks Ms. Peggy." I was grinning at her; she knew it was my favorite. The silky chocolate pie was magnificent, and I practically licked the plate clean. I got up and paid. I found Ms. Peggy to give her a tip.
"Call me if you need anything sweetie." She pulled me into a hug and kissed my cheek.
"Thanks. You too." Ms. Peggy had always been so nice to me, I knew my story touched her and she always had a warm smile waiting for me. I made it back to my car; I still had a stop to make before heading off to work. The snow was starting to stick to the roads, so I needed to hurry. My little car wasn't made for running on the slick roads. I pulled into the doughnut shop; I had called ahead with my order. I ran inside to collect eight boxes; each held 25 glazed droughts, fresh from the cooker.
Peggy was right, there was a line starting to wrap around the building, customers lined up waiting for the Black Friday sales. I had worked every Thanksgiving since I started. Every year the sales, crowds, and calamity that was Black Friday escalated. I grabbed one of the boxes of doughnuts and held it open as I walked by the line. It was quiet and orderly now, but that would probably change in a few hours.
"I'll be back in a few minutes with coffee and hot chocolate." I said to the gathered crowd before I unlocked the door and turned off the security alarm. I had been promoted to manager two years ago. I was a few minutes early and my help started trickling in. I had set up a table in front of the store for the drinks and doughnuts when Shelly walked in. She was an assistant manager and was always willing to help.
"Hey Shell, can you help me with something?" I asked as she walked up towards me.
"Sure boss." She smirked at me, knowing that I did not like to be called boss.
"Please follow me to my car, I have too much to carry." Shelly followed me to my car and I handed her the yellow bag that had hot chocolate mix and coffee. I grabbed the seven remaining boxes of doughnuts and we headed back inside. I found the two stainless steel drink warmers and set them up while Shelly made the hot beverages.
"You wanna hand out drinks or tickets?" I asked Shelly as she started another pot of coffee.
"Drinks." She answered with a grin. "Remember last year when your clumsy ass spilled on the people lined up."
"Don't remind me." I half groaned, half laughed at the memory. Shelly filled up a tray with a lip around the edge, half with coffee, half with hot chocolate. I held the door open for her before she made her way out. I checked to make sure everyone knew their assignments and what registers needed to be open.
"Mr. Muse." I heard my name and turned around to see two police officers.
"Mason, please." I said as I shook their hands. "Thanks for coming. Help yourself to drinks, and doughnuts." I said as I pointed to the table. "It'll be another thirty minutes before we open, hopefully your presence will prevent any chaos." They smiled and stepped over to get coffee and doughnuts. It was true that cops liked doughnuts, but to be honest, not many people would decline a free doughnut. People got carried away by the "Door Buster" deals and last year got out of hand. In order to keep the sale going, the store was required to hire two police officers for the night, and pay them overtime, to keep the peace.
This year I would be handing out tickets for the limited "Door Buster" items based on who was in line first. Hopefully it would cut down on the mad dash through the store. I had already made the tickets and a flipped through the paper stubs before heading outside. Shelly was on her way back in to get more drinks, the line had doubled since last I saw it.
"We have plenty of sales tonight, but for the limited items I will be passing out tickets. Each person can claim one ticket, the people in the front get first choice." I announced in my loudest voice, hoping the people in the back of the line could hear me. I knew that the big screen TVs would be claimed first, but there were good deals on video game systems, video games, stereos, blu-ray players, microwaves, toaster ovens, car stereos, satellite radios, computers, tablets, and headphones among others. I walked down the line and people happily picked through, hoping their desired item was still available. A few people got out of line, disappointed that they had lined up for no reason, but most were fairly happy. I was towards the end of the line when a man was happy to hear that I still had ticket for a Nintendo 3DS with game.
"Thanks so much." His hazel eyes smiled warmly at me as I handed him the voucher. He looked a little old to be playing video games, but I had a 3DS too, so couldn't judge him. Shell walked up behind me and the man took a cup of steaming coffee and settled back in line.
"Thanks Shell, I'm heading in. If you get too cold, send Danny out." She nodded and I headed back inside. I knew she would tough it out for the next fifteen minutes until the store opened. I made a final sweep, making sure everyone was where they needed to be. When I walked to the TV section I noticed that Ben was playing with the Xbox One demo.
"Ben, I don't care If you play with the demos, you need to be able to tell customers about them, not just the Xbox, but the new Playstation and Wii U. My problem is that all of the TVs on the showroom are off."
"Shit." Ben mumbled as he ran to turn on the TVs. "Sorry Mase I forgot." I waved him off as I headed back to the front of the store. I only had two cashiers working, which I knew would be a problem, but Shell and I could open registers if need be. The two police officers were chatting and enjoying the snacks.
"Do y'all need chairs?" I asked as they straightened up.
"No, thanks." They answered.
"Well, I'm going to let in the masses." I smiled and they nodded. Shelly was standing in the front of the line smiling as I unlocked the remaining doors.
"Let the sales begin." I proclaimed as I headed outside to stand by Shelly. The crowd started filing in, most of the drama was gone, everyone knew what their "door buster" was, and no one was sprinting wildly around the store. The man who I had handed the 3DS ticket earlier smiled as he calmly headed into the store. The associates were spread out around the store and would exchange the tickets for the actual item. Shelly and I headed back inside to monitor the bustling store. Black Friday was one of our busiest days of the year. One of the police officers stationed himself near the entrance, while the other roamed around the store. Their presence seemed to bring a sense of calm to the entire store. I headed into the office and looked over the monitors, all seemed calm and I smiled at making it through the initial rush.
A few minutes later I glanced at the monitors to see a disturbance. It was a man talking and a woman was wildly flailing her arms. They were in the vacuum section, of all places. The expensive British cyclone vacuums were on sale, $100 off, but we had plenty of them. There had only been ten out on the floor, but at least thirty more were in the back. I made my way over to the argument.
"Is there a problem?" I asked and the man settled his hazel eyes on me, he was calm and I recognized him as the man who was happy to get the 3DS ticket.
"He took it, it's the last one and I want it." The woman was flailing her arms her voice was shrill.
"Well it looks like it's in his cart ma'am. I have plenty more in the back; if you wait here I'll go-." She cut me off before I could finish.
"I shouldn't have to wait, it's mine I saw it first." I heard the man sigh as he removed the vacuum from his cart and placed it in hers.
"I don't mind waiting." He said as he smiled warmly at me. His white teeth glistened. He had a perfectly trimmed brown goatee framing his mouth.
"Thanks." The woman almost sneered as she pushed her cart away from us.
"Thank you." I started. "For that."
"No problem." He answered.
"I'll be right back." I said before I headed in the back, I filled up a dolly with ten vacuums and pulled them back out to the section.
"Here you go." I said handing him one off of the dolly. "I'm going to give you a 5% off coupon, for being so patient."
"That's nice of you, but it's not necessary." He said placing the vacuum in the cart. "Here let me help you." He volunteered taking vacuums off of the dolly and placing them in the display.
"It's my job, but thanks for the offer." I answered as he took the last vacuum and placed it down. He gave me another smile and my heart fluttered at the thought. He was gorgeous. He was about four inches taller than I was and stood 6'1" tall. His brown hair was short, he had kind hazel eyes. His smile was warm and engaging.
"Follow me." I said as I waved him on. "I was about to open a register." He followed me and I handed the dolly off to Danny as he walked by. I turned the light on my register as the man pulled up.
"You can leave everything in the cart." I said, not wanting to lug the vacuum box around again. I pulled out the portable scanner and walked over to his cart. I got a scent of the man and had to stifle a moan. He smelled like soap and laundry detergent. I got a hint of his natural smell; it was a little musky and filled with pheromones that tickled at my nose. I shook it from my mind and I started scanning the items in his cart. In addition to the vacuum, he had the 3DS bundle with a Pokemon game, Spongebob Squarepants headphones, some Disney/Pixar Blu-rays, and a Nexus 7 tablet.
I walked back to the register and the man was grinning at me. "The vacuum and the tablet are for me, the rest is for my son." His face lit up when he mentioned his son and I smiled back at him. He handed me his credit card and I noticed the wedding band on his left hand and tried to shake off the disappointment. I glanced at the name on the card reading Thomas Taft.
"May I have your zip code Mr. Taft?" I asked at the prompt from the register. He shared the five digit number and I grinned at him.
"That's mine too. Please sign here." I pointed to the screen in front of him. When he clicked 'Okay' the receipt printed out and I handed it to him. "Thanks for shopping with us."
"Thank you." He replied. "You've been very helpful." I enjoyed watching his firm backside in his jeans as he exited the store.
A couple hours had passed and it was around three in the morning when I told the police officers they could head out. Things had calmed down and a steady stream of customers was drifting in and out of the store, on their way to and from other sales. A few hours later the new shift started clocking in. I was working one of the registers when I heard the day manager speaking.
"Alright Mason, go get some sleep." I looked up at Toby and grinned.
"It was pretty calm, but we had a lot business."
"That's good." Toby answered as I signed out of my register and headed to gather my things. Shelly headed out of the store with me.
"Thanks Shell, you were a load of help."
"Anytime Mase, see ya later." She waved and unlocked her car as I got into mine. It was about a twenty minute drive back to MeMaw's house, my house. I pulled up to the two-story, white, Georgian style house. The yard wasn't as kempt as it should be and paint was starting to chip in places, but it was home. I was thankful that I had this little refuge, this reminder of my parents, of my grandmother. It was chilly inside, but much warmer than outside. Heating oil was expensive, so I made do with the woodstove. I opened it and stoked the few embers inside before filling It with wood and adjusting the vents. The logs would catch shortly and the den would be warm and cozy. I went to my bedroom, the same that I used to sleep in when I lived here when I was younger, pulled the comforter off of my bed and dragged it downstairs with me. I curled up on the couch and let the heat envelope my lean frame.
The midday sun was shining in my eyes, causing me to wake up. I made a late breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast before I took a quick shower. I had several things I wanted to accomplish today, the most exciting of which would be getting a Christmas tree. I bundled up and headed out. The roads had been plowed and there were snow banks on the sides of the roads.
I made my way to one of the discount shops and filled my cart with various toys. I had puzzles, paddle balls, Matchbox cars, paying cards, coloring books, and stuffed animals. I didn't make much money, but I always did what I could to help kids who wouldn't be getting any presents. I knew what it was like growing up without receiving a Christmas present. The orphanage gave us cookies and cakes on Christmas morning, but more times than not, there were no toys, or there would be one toy for ten of us to share. I know it wasn't much, but knowing that a handful of kids would be getting something, warmed my heart.
The local YMCA hosted the toy drive every year and I parked and grabbed my bags before heading in. In front of me there was a father and a son waiting in line. The son was grasping a blue furry monster, Sulley, from the Monsters Inc. movies. When it was his turn his dad beckoned him forward.
"I want Sulley." The boy whined.
"James, we bought two of them, your Sulley is in the car remember? This one we're giving to another boy or girl." I couldn't help but gulp when I heard the man's voice. It was Thomas from the store this morning.
"Oh yeah, I forgot." The boy's tone changed and he placed the stuffed monster onto the table in front of him.
"Thank you sweet heart." The lady behind the table said.
"You're welcome." James answered grinning. James was his father in miniaturized form. He was cute as a button. They turned to head out of the door, but Thomas paused when he saw me.
"Quite a haul you have there." He said smiling at me.
"I guess." I answered, shrugging at him.
"Who's that daddy?" James asked pointing at me.
"Well James, this is." He hesitated, not knowing my name. I squatted down in front of James and held out my hand.
"Hello James, I'm Mason." I said smiling as he took my hand to shake it. "Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too Mr. Son." James repeated, trying to say my name.
"May-son." His dad enunciated. He held out his hand and I shook it. "I'm Tom."
"Thanks so much sweetheart." The lady told me as she started sorting through my bags.
"Thank you." I responded as I followed Tom and his son out of the building.
"We're going for hamburgers if you would like to join us." Tom said.
"Yay! Hamburgers!" James cheered in excitement. I couldn't help but smile and laugh at his exuberance.
"That's kind of you, but I've already eaten. I have a few errands I need to run anyway." I answered as I headed toward my car.
"Mason wait." I felt Tom's hand on my shoulder I shuddered from the contact.
"Yeah?" I asked as I slowly turned around to face Tom.
"How about dinner then?" Tom's face softened and his eyes were warm and inviting. I knew I shouldn't have been, but I was attracted to the married man.
"That's not necessary."
"I know." Tom answered. "We're having beef stew, homemade." Tom added raising his eyebrows at me.
"I wouldn't want to impose, make extra work for the misses." Tom's face darkened and the glint in his eyes faded.
"There is no misses." He stated frankly.
"Momma is in Heaven with the angels." Little James said proudly as he pointed and looked up at the sky.
"Oh, I'm sorry." I hung my head, I couldn't look in Tom's sad eyes any longer.
"It's alright, that was nearly two years ago, we're getting on. So will you join us?" The corner of his mouth turned up into a hopeful smile.
"Sure." There was no way I could decline his invitation now. He pulled out his wallet and handed me a card.
"My number is on there, call me around six and I'll give you directions." His eyes were glistening again, full of hope and I nodded.
"Will do." I answered before sliding the card safely into my pocket.
"See ya later Mason." Tom called.
"Bye James." I waved at James. "Bye Tom." I almost whispered as I turned around.
"Bye Mr. Mason." James called after me and I couldn't help but grin. I knew that Tom was straight and that he probably just wanted a friend. I couldn't shake those handsome hazel eyes from my head. He was such a turn on to me. He was probably older than I was, but not by much. He was taller, had facial hair. I could tell that he was in good shape by the way his sweater hugged his pectoral muscles. I moaned at the vision of Tom as I headed to a stand selling Christmas Trees.